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What does a talkative congressional candidate in Buffalo have in common with some witnesses at the January 6, 2021, insurrection hearings?
They believe that people want to follow strong political leaders.
Carl Paladino, who is seeking the Republican nomination for an open seat in the US House of Representatives, recently called Adolf Hitler “the kind of leader we need today.” He continued: “We need someone inspiring. We need someone who takes action.
Although Paladino didn’t mention exactly what this particular “actor” did, he liked how the Nazi Führer “excited the crowd.” The despicable substance of his exciting speeches meant nothing compared to how he got people to follow him. (Forget the Gestapo.)
During House hearings on Jan. 6, an attendee said he was on Capitol Hill because former President Donald Trump asked him to be there. Why would he easily do Trump’s bidding?
It’s easy for some media outlets to assume that Trump simply brought the racists out of the closet. That may be true, but it’s far from the complete answer.
Paladino implied that people react to bold, assertive and confident leadership for its own good. It doesn’t matter where the speakers want to lead people, just that they seem to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps that explains why the man went to Washington to attack the Capitol.
It may also explain why President Joe Biden has become less popular than Trump was at the same point in his presidency. Biden is affable, but not a crowd-pleaser orator who can articulate his politics through mere catchphrases.
One of the hallmarks of leadership is the ability to directly motivate others. Leadership is a learned skill, so it’s no surprise that 12 of our 46 presidents have served as generals. Among the most historic were professionals like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Others in the lower ranks, like Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, had led the fight.
The United States was created as a republic, a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. This is the difference between the representative municipal council and the direct democratic decision-making of the municipal assembly.
In either case, the people are the sovereign, not a monarch or dictator. As the United States evolved, its original republican institutions became more democratic. This is demonstrated by the adoption of popular election of the Senate, referendums, popular vetoes and recall elections.
American presidents, including those with military experience, have supported democracy, even as the system has blocked some of their policies. There is no doubt that a one-person government is more efficient than an intentionally more complicated and slower democratic system.
Autocratic leaders often believe that the democratic system is weak and inefficient and seek authoritarian rule. Hitler seized power by democratic vote, then quickly replaced popular control with his brutally efficient rule.
If a person values efficiency above democracy, the strong, uncontrolled leader is popular. This is especially true if you agree with their policies. The risk is that they will later adopt policies that you don’t like and that you will be powerless to oppose. What is tempting today may be terrifying tomorrow.
Today, American politics is conducted by the Republican and Democratic parties. Although their names may imply a difference in how the country should be governed, the two major parties have historically shared a common view of how government would work.
But a rift has begun to grow between them, with some Republicans believing their party should reverse the trend towards more democracy. Voter suppression and abuse of voting practices in the Senate are now on the GOP agenda.
Republicans easily slipped by calling the other party the “Democratic Party” and not by its legal name – the Democratic Party. Originally, this ploy was only intended to annoy, but it increasingly became an insult, conveying something sinister about the party.
Republicans may imply that his competitor is no longer a Democrat but has fallen into the hands of his far left. The Democratic Party has traditionally had a bigger tent than the GOP and that produces enough variety that there is always an office holder whose patriotism can be questioned by a Republican.
Does this type of politics go so far as to ask whether representative democracy has lost its usefulness or proved incapable of meeting modern needs? Elitist republic yes, popular democracy no?
It’s more than a political game played by some in the GOP. Favoring “inspiring” leaders tends to undermine our innovative system of democratic government and pave the way for more authoritarian rule. Perhaps that is what is intended.
We must understand that political division is now more than disagreement over issues. It’s about the system itself. Paladino’s views and promotion of the mindset of following the leader of the January 6th Capitol Invaders are dangerous to the American Democratic Republic.